Commission urges ‘data solidarity’ to balance public health, individual rights

A commission convened by The Lancet and The Financial Times recognized digital transformation as a determinant of health – and urged governments around the world to take advantage of the wellness opportunities technology offers.  

“There is vast promise in digital technology, but the commission argues that, overall, digital transformations will not deliver health benefits for all without fundamental and revolutionary realignment,” read a Lancet editorial accompanying the commission’s report.  

WHY IT MATTERS

The Lancet and Financial Times Commission on Governing Health Futures comprised 19 specialists from 14 countries to consult groups around the world on recent trends.

The commission highlighted the transformative potential of digital technologies, especially with regard to health, care and public systems.  

“At the same time, weak governance of digital transformations has led to uneven effects globally, endangering democracy, limiting the agency of patients and communities, increasing health inequities, eroding trust, and compromising human rights, including in the field of health,” it wrote in the report released this week.  

The commission paid special attention to the effect of emerging technologies on people younger than 25, with the understanding that their welfare represented a “litmus test” for the whole of society.  

“The scope of this commission goes beyond a narrow technical view of digital health applications and health data use, which represent only partial components of how digital transformations affect health and wellbeing, now and in the future,” the report read.

“Our report targets the broader societal and governance questions that emerge at the interface of digital and health transformations, and in doing so speaks directly to both health and digital communities across the public and private sectors, and in civil society,” it continued.  

The commission urged stakeholders to take several actions aimed at ensuring digital transformations are harnessed for sustainable health futures:

  1. Address tech as an SDOH: Governments should close digital and health divides by 2030, and public and private actors should seek to close the global financing gap.
  2. Build a public trust architecture: By 2025, governments should adopt countrywide strategies to safeguard health and digital rights, and develop strategies for a “democratic and distributed governance model for digital transformations of health” that leverages regions and cities by 2030.
  3. Govern health data on the basis of health solidarity: Give people greater control over their data as active decision-makers, ensure that the value of data is harnessed for public good, and move society towards equity and justice by counteracting dynamics of data extraction.
  4. Invest in enablers of digital transformation of public health and universal health coverage: Governments should enhance the content and implementation of digital health strategies and implement permanent programs to support workforce training.

THE LARGER TREND

Advocates have emphasized the importance of recognizing connectivity and technology as a determinant of health, particularly amidst the COVID-19 crisis.  

This past year, as part of Global Health Equity Week, a public health expert from the UN told HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf that the rapid innovation triggered by the pandemic may have actually widened the digital divide.  

“We’ve seen this rapid digital transformation happen in healthcare systems and healthcare delivery systems across the world,” said Ahmed El Saeed. “And it was not really something that was planned, obviously. It was something that happened as a rapid response to a health emergency.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to look at the different elements and factors that could potentially be propagated or affected by that type of response,” El Saeed continued.  

ON THE RECORD  

“We require digital technologies that work for health, address its determinants, and build on broader efforts to overcome digital divides and achieve sustainable development,” wrote the commissioners.   

“We also juxtapose a digital governance model on the basis of data extraction with one based on data solidarity, digital trust, accountability and public participation, which we believe [hold] the key to advancing health equity and reconciling privacy concerns and public value,” they continued.   

“If governments were to adopt such an approach to governing digital transformations, it would give us hope for an era of progress towards sustainable health futures,” they added.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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